tv [untitled] May 4, 2012 10:30pm-11:00pm EDT
>> absolutely. i mean, fear sells things like sex. and there's sort of the implication of sex in this as well. >> because cartwright mentioned about how there was a fear of interracial relationships between white women and asian men, right? so this would be a propaganda piece. this is what asian men will do to whoever. >> absolutely. and this is the danger of opium. this might be a good place to talk about the primary document we read for this week. and the book that it comes from -- and i just learned this as i was putting this together, was apparently reprinted recently. i think last year. and in this form so you can get it online.
and the full title is "the demon of the orient and his satellite fiends of the joints are opium smokers as they are in tartar hells and american paradises". it's really a title to conjure with. so go right ahead. >> all right. that's me. well, first i want to go over a little detail about ellen s. williams, which is actually really hard to find information on him. but i did find a little bit. first of all, he was an american journalist who wrote for the "new york times." and i think he also wrote for the "new york truth" which i think is no longer published anymore. according to the press philosophies found in the beginning of the book, he wrote, and this is a quote, "many
interesting articles in the newspapers and magazines subscriptive of the manner of the opium dens and joints" which he would go visit. he spent two years taking his investigations for the book, which he published in 1883, you already read the title which i was going to do. but finally, williams was a doom sayer who believed opium would corrupt the youth of america and eventually contest alcohol as the abusive substance of choice. now, my questions for this portion, if you look at paragraph 3 of the chapter we read, at the northern end of the
room was a fireplace. beneath a carbon-colored mantle. and the long winter nights there glowed an anthrocite coal fire. and the fuel slowly consumed seeming a not inept simile to the physical and mental organizations of the smokers. now, anthrocite, definition, a mineral coal, contained little of the volatile hydrocarbons and burning almost without flame. i'm just curiouses to what you guys thing of this comparison. what is he getting at here? do you think it's possible that he is comparing the patrons of this place to being basically dim-witted people? >> because they didn't stay in a well-heated place and their mental state kind of kept them in that? is that what you think he's kind of getting at? >> well, i'm thinking more what
he's trying to get at is the anthrocite, i think he's just throwing it out as kind of name recognition. it was kind of, they just started mining that around this time point. it was kind of like the rage in coal, anyway. but i don't think that's the point. i think the point is that these people are slowly consuming themselves, they're getting skinnier, they're not eating, drinking, not taking care of themselves. so they're slowly burning like this coal is slowly burning. i think that's probably more of what he was trying to get at with the anthrocite kind of name dropping, where the act of the coal burning itself out is what he was getting at. >> if you read the next sentence in that, they seem to have no such gruesome reflections but contentedly gazed into its fiery recesses and imagine them to be un-earthly grottoes and conjure up a host of salamanders to people." yeah, i think they're consuming themselves but they're not even really aware that they're in a furnace.
they're just not concerned about that. >> okay. good. anything else about that? all right. then i'll go on to my next question. william uses powerful language to describe the patrons of this place as being slaves to their addictions. he essentially says they are a curse to drink alcohol even though opium supposedly relieves the need to drink. and he describes the patrons as
subjects to a god of opium. he also finds it to be a pivotal mockery to believe these people to to be sovereigns over themselves. do you guys think this is a fair assessment, or do you feel like he is exaggerating? i think it's important to keep in mind he was not afraid to try it for himself. >> i really think from our readings in "dark paradise" and from our previous experience with this gentleman, it took a little while to really get hooked on opium. so at least opium smoking. so if he's going to just try it once or twice, he might say, i don't see the point. i don't know how these people could possibly get this addicted to it. they're slaves to this vice. and so maybe he's overreacting because he doesn't really know. but i mean, maybe he's really looking at it again like saying what people want to hear about it.
they want to hear that it's terrible and that it's bad but at the same time they want to hear that yes, it is what you've been hearing about. >> and cope in mind this is the 1880s. this is the era of the chinese exclusion act. this is the era of tremendous anti-chinese prejudice and violence in various parts of the union. so he's i think playing into this as well. i mean, think about the title of the book" demon of the orient." it's not subtle. >> was your thought that he didn't try the opium because it was -- my take was he absolutely did. >> yes. he explains that he took it toward the end. it had very little effect on him. >> look at the last paragraph. i'm sorry. the dude was high. "my pleasant reflections upon the simple life of the hermit of walden pond." i'm sorry. where did that come from in the opium den? gazing at the fire?
>> i think partly, even when he tries it at the end he describes it and says, yeah, it's kind of neat. but i mean, like dr. martin said at this time with the chinese exclusion act and all that, the chinese were seen as subhuman. and so maybe he's looking at it as well as a superior european-american, i don't get hooked onto. this and of course, he doesn't know like we know that it takes a good deal of smoking opium to really get addicted to it. so maybe he's thinking, oh, yeah, it's great. but being this superior being, this superior european descent, we're above it. >> well, but if you look at the -- well, not that paragraph but the one before it, "it was the night of my debut in this
palace, out from which the chinese were barred." so getting back to your question, apparently this was a place for whites only. and all there were sovereigns in their own right being americans, although their pretense of ruling themselves was a shallow and pitiable mockery" so in other words, not everybody was going to be above it, even the sovereigns in their own right. and that is an interesting passage, though, that linda brought up. he seems to have smoked some opium there. and is sitting there and thinking about this person he's look at. he says, "by an easily followed step of thought, the host's personality gave place to henry d. thoreau's." my pleasant reflection on the hermit life of walden pond among nature's ardent lovers were rudely interrupted bite host's voice uttering with a laugh, the following sentiment, well, "if i have to send souls
to hell i'm going to send lots of them. and the fiends laughed, too." so what do you think is going on there? >> it sound like he's having a nice pleasant revelry or whatever and then the host talks and just ruins it all for him. and of course, everybody else, the fiends all the rest of the patrons just laugh along because they have no idea what's going on, either. >> i think it could almost be that the host knows it's a bad thing but he's quite okay with making money off of it so he figures why not. and i think that that's why he's kind of jarred suddenly out of this reverie is because he realizes this is a vice, something that's sinful. >> anybody else? do you have more questions? >> we touched upon this a little bit. but in regards to williams trying opium, do you think he's being a hypocrite or is he just
being a good investigator? >> maria? >> well, i think he's not being very objective here. so maybe he's more of a journalist who's trying to again as we read the article before, just trying to make money out of what he's writing. and being kind of over the top about it. >> yeah, i think in the beginning he deplores the activity of smoking opium, but maybe he realizes i should try it first, instead of condemg ni it. maybe he could be a little hypocritical, but at the same time trying to be a good investigator as well.
>> presumably you would have to explain your presence in this place if you were not smoking. so, dan. >> the idea of him putting himself into the middle of what he is reporting on, it's thompsons gonzo journal its m a century earlier. >> anybody else? a hand up? frank? >> i think for the time he wasn't really being hypocritical. a lot of middle class people are living vicariously through him. so, i don't want to compare him to steve irwin, but that's exactly the same thing people did when he was around. people were living vicariously through him with the adventures and that kind of thing. >> there is a long tradition in american reform literature, whether it was alcohol which we read a little bit about or prostitution or drug reporting of this sort of salacious and titillating stuff that is on the one hand wagging its finger at this bad stuff,
but providing you with all of the details. and probably a lot of people are reading and thinking boy, that sounds good. they are criticized with the grounds, and some of that this. >> next question. why do you suppose william titled his book "the demon of the orient"? it also helps to keep in mind that this chapter has very little to do with the orient at all and the owner and the patrons are all am cam an and the establishment is meant to cater to their tastes. i mean, opium wasn't exclusive to oriental countries. the ancient romans used it and the ancient mesopotamians used it. it had a wide circulation. why demonize the orient?
>> frank? >> i think because it had an association with the orient in the united states. the people who brought it over were chinese immigrants. americans got exposed to it via, the chinese immigrants. and seeing those people and seeing how it possesses other people, it becomes the demon of the orient. >> on that note, you mentioned this is the era of the chinese exclusion acts and i think that he was capitalizing on basically what was relevant at the time. >> well, in kind of like the fast grabs and the cigarette books like we read earlier. opium had obviously been around for a very, very long time as opposed to medicine. that was not what mr. williams is looking at. what he was looking at was the smoke of it which was relatively
new fashion. and it originated in china and that was how the british were able to dump it off in the chinese. the chinese brought over the smoking, which was you know no longer that was seen medicinally like lu -- like laudenum was. that was what was wrong. this is also the height of the movement where we look down upon alcohol. no longer drinking it for food, no longer drinking it for medicine or whatever it is being drunk for pleasure and the whole purpose of getting drunk, so -- >> there might be a darwinian element to it too? it's not enough to say that asians are just different, that there's a reason that you know, they're not the same as white people. and here we can pinpoint it and say that there's a reason that there's something within the orient that it's causing them to diverge so completely from white middle class or whoever is supposed to be held in that standards.
this is helping you know get a scientific reason or something to at least highlight. >> or at least a cultural one or historical one. >> my background in literature is now going to rear its ugly head. there is also the fact that surrounding opium there has been this poetic tradition that connects it to the orient, particularly with kohlerage and kublikhan. and one of the lines in kublikh kublikhan, wailing for her demon lover. it was supposed to be written while he was trying to sever himself of his opium addiction. it's possible that the demon of the orient might also be playing on that tradition.
>> yeah, and i suspect there's probably something to that. and also thomas dequincy, confessions of an opium eater, not an opium smoker, but nonetheless, the same kind of -- >> i don't really see him identifying with the chinese aspect in here. his emphasis is on white usage. >> is on what, i'm sorry, what? >> on the white middle class usage in this particular chapter. more as a warning. i think when he was talking about the demon of the orient he is talking about the opium and not so much the chinese. at least him. >> that's where it came from. >> right. >> that's what we're saying is it's different. their use of opium is what's making them different from other people. >> why isn't there more of a direct reference in this essay? >> he is asking about the title of the book and not the title of the chapter. >> "demon of the orient." >> it's the title of the book.
>> we only analyze the chapter. i'm sure in the rest of the book they get into more of what you are talking about. >> i think he is focusing on the person that goes through it, more so than the chinese. you know what i mean? >> you see the demon of the orient as the oriental? >> no. >> i think the racial dynamics of this are quite interesting. again, with the title, "the demon of the orient," clearly there is the connotation that this is an asian thing that has come to the united states, brought here by the chinese. what's interesting and he in the portion we read before, he makes reference to these are all americans in here supposedly sovereigns of themselves but they're not. because they're now engaging in this oriental practice of smoking opium. so it's again playing off a lot
of -- i think it's about both the opium and the chinese and c conflating them as both thing s that are threatening to infect the united states and reduce the sovereigns of themselves to these fiends, and laugh at -- >> i'm sure it was in cartwright's books and brings attention to the fact that although opium smoking came to this country through the chinese, the chinese didn't originally smoke opium. it was introduced to them through tobacco use. >> right. >> and they first started smoking opium by mixing them together. and then they just threw away the tobacco. >> right. but at the level of ideology, it was at this time, a chinese vice. associated with -- even though it was the brit ush who essentially introduced it to
china and forced them to continue to import it, so -- so let me just -- if you have more questions, we can -- i had some questions, too. i think we've addressed some of them. oops we're back there again. depict opium smoking, pretty much what we've been talking about. intending to influence and what was his likely target audience? the answer is probably implied by a lot of what we've just been saying. and i think he is very much playing on this anti-chinese prejudice. whoops. can you compare this piece to the one we read about two or three weeks ago by taylor's vision of hashish? because they're both, in a sense, journalists. both engaging in through personal experience,
this oriental vice. different oriental vice in this case, and both writing about the sort of visions and reveries and experience of it. so how would you compare them? similarities? differences? frank? >> i would say they're real similar in that you've got this author going in to kind of see what it is about and to try and to describe the scenes of the sights and the smells. i think the really big difference is that is taylor's vision of hashish is all the way over in the ottoman empire. it's thousands of miles away. as opposed to the piece we're reading today where it's right here in the united states. it was right at people's back doors. there were people who probably could have gone a block and found an opium den. >> and taylor's piece, remember, was written in 1852, i think. this is 30 years later.
so maybe it's significant that, you know, this oriental vice is a thousand miles away in 1852. but in 1883, it's on west 33rd street. >> right. >> i think, also, taylor's version is very descriptive. it talks about some of the things he goes through on his trip or whatever. he also, i think, in that version takes it a couple of different times. first he takes it, i think it doesn't have the desired effect. then he said i didn't get real high and then he stopped. taylor does it again. it goes even further. i think there's almost an element of terror, too, when he described his friend who went through this pain and torment. he's describing it. there's this part that, as a reader, you're taking this all in when you're going through this. >> nate? >> i think a key difference is just looking at even williams' first paragraph. he was going into it having already made up his mind, essentially.
it seems regardless of what his conclusion was after he smoked the opium, he was going to be writing this piece regardless. whereas taylor was kind of, at least the way he wrote it, it was more like i'm traveling the world, and i'm just going to experience what the locals do and then write about it without, you know, either supporting it or condemning it one way or the other. >> i feel there was a lot more sensationalism in taylor's vision of hashish as well. it was almost like the people back home kind of heard about it but didn't know what to expect. i think that he made it more of a big deal than it was. i mean for goodness sakes, taylor said that he was spouting like a steam engine, i believe, as opposed to our piece today. it seems a little more believable. >> which piece do you suppose -- if you were the intended audience, and it's probably the same kind of demographic audience although 30 years
apart. this is going to be a middle class person who buys newspapers and magazines and reads them and books. which of these would be more worrying to you? >> today's. >> yeah, i would think today's would be because it's not a thousand miles away. it's in your own backyard. after his experience, taylor is pretty much okay after he comes down over several days from taking, you know, six persons' worth of hashish. but what happens here is these people, the fiends are just habituants of this den. they're going to be there until they self-destruct. nate. whenever. go ahead.
>> also with taylor, he goes into great detail about the effects of hashish whereas williams', he keeps the details out of it. almost like he doesn't want the readers to know and get curious. about, well maybe this would be a great time for all. >> yeah, that's true. i mean, taylor -- it does -- it's like a technicolor movie. is what he's describing. it seems kind of, whoa, out there, and a little bit out of control. something you might want to try, particularly when he says there's no serious after effects. but this is something different entirely. >> i was just about to say the overall impression i got from the demon of the orient, it seems like a public service announcement of this is happening in your backyard. supposed high officials in your town aren't here. it's everywhere. it affects anyone. stay away from it, basically.
>> i thought it was interesting because it kind of reminded me of the whole concept of a gilded age where everything he's present i presenting, it's all westernized. there's no gloomy dens of chinatown. everything is really beautiful inside and rich and, you know, more representative of that kind of mid- to upper-class society. yet, the people inside are just as almost worthless in that sense that people would assume that chinese immigrants are. so i thought that was really interesting. >> frank. >> i was going to say, based off of that, at this point in time the chinese immigrants are known for being poverty level poor. just ridiculously poor. putting other things aside to buy opium. i don't know if this was also a warning not just to the middle class but also maybe to people at the federal level. we don't want to become like china in that nine out of ten people are addicted.
so maybe it was this warning to say, hey, unless we want to turn out like that, we need to watch out. because opium is not just white americans. >> so do you think -- some of you who have probably read for another class the book "orientalism" in which he argues that the west creates an image of the east as exotic and different and inferior to suit its own purposes and to justify its own conquest and exploitation of that area. do you think that's what one or both of these -- i mean, not necessarily intentionally, that that's their project, but are they part of this process? are one or both part of the process? dan. >> i think both of them are engaging in the orientalist project. taylor's was more of an
unintentional orientalization whereas williams is very clearly trying to paint the picture of the dangerous and inferior oriental who is within our communities and infecting us with something. we have the right to be on our guard against this horrible infection. did you have something, frank? >> kind of. i think that williams definitely did have that orientalism. i think it was unintentional. i mean, not in the way of intentionally justifying, dominating other places. i mean, for goodness sakes, at the same time the chinese were calling the europeans barbarians. so, i mean, it couldn't have been -- i don't think it was an intentional attempt to dehumanize the chinese, but i
think it had that affect. >> well, it may have been intentional, at least in williams -- i mean, i think this is the demographic he's writing for, this middle class that's concerned about chinese immigration, it's concerned about labor unrest, it's concerned about all sorts of things. >> i mean, i didn't think th that -- yeah, he wanted to say that the chinese were below us, but i don't think he used it as a justification to say it's okay what we're doing to them. i don't think that was his goal. >> i think -- well, maybe not. >> a little hard to draw that. taylor, you can see. he's really romanticizing the orient. he's smoking about american smoking in an opium den. i don't see lot of orient into